The biography on the flyleaf of a book by a well-known pastor/author will often state that he's “pastor of one of the fastest growing churches in the country” which, I take it, implies this gives him the credentials to write authoritatively on the subject of his book. I've been tempted, when asked for a short biography of myself, to write, “Dave Claassen is the pastor of one of the slowest growing churches in the country.” In fact, there have been times when the church I serve has grown in attendance in the opposite direction!
Of course, the main growth any self-respecting pastor should aim for is spiritual growth in his or her church. Here too the growth is often slow and certainly hard to quantify.
I have come to see that the walk of faith, and not just for a pastor like me, but for everyone, needs to have the element of fortitude. Faith and fortitude need to go together. Fortitude is strength, a strength that results in resolute endurance, to persevere in adversity. It seems to me that faith can only continue to exist if there is fortitude. Looking at it from the other direction, fortitude can only exist if there is faith.
Faith and fortitude, when combined, result in persistent plodding. Persistent plodding, that's the moral at the end of the fable, "The Tortoise and The Hare." The hare thinks he has the race won even before he starts, so when the race is on he stops for a rest. While he rests the slow moving tortoise passes him by and wins the race. The moral of the story? Plodding wins the race.
Author Lisa Graham McMinn in her book, "The Contented Soul: The Art of Savoring Life," references the 18th century French Jesuit priest Jean-Pierre de Caussade and his book, "The Sacrament of the Present Moment." She writes that Caussade encourages us “to recognize God in every moment – not to run from struggle but to surrender to it, trusting that God's will is found in our actions and our suffering.” (Loc 318, in e-book) McMinn then comments that “walking with God in the 'duty of the present moment' takes fortitude; the ability to stay in the moment, and to respond virtuously in it. To keep on keeping on.” (Loc 325) Yes, plodding wins the day!
We live in an era when plodding is not popular. We've seen much progress in overcoming many problems, especially in the medical field and so look for a quick medical fix that is pain free. Our electronics work faster and better with every upgrade or new purchase. Advertising promises us a quick and easy fix for whatever is hindering us from being happy, if we just buy the product or service being promoted. Our sense of entitlement to happiness prompts impatience and anger, often resulting in an inner temper tantrum that leaves our soul cluttered with thrown and broken pieces of thoughts and feelings instead of the tidy and harmonious decor of peace. We have cultivated souls that do not lend themselves easily to peaceful plodding through whatever.
My study of how God has worked through the ages as recorded in the Bible shows me that God often works slowly, through the years, often unfolding his plan through the generations. He is obviously not in as much of a hurry to move toward a resolution as we often are. The spiritual journey is often a pilgrimage of plodding!
Faith means I trust in God – that he knows what he is doing and that he is up to something good. Faith means I hear him whisper, “Wait and see.” Don't misunderstand; this waiting is not to be passive but active. I'm to be doing something while I wait. I'm to do the next thing that needs doing, I'm to take the next step. This combination of an attitude of waiting and the action of walking is – plodding! To plod well I need both faith and fortitude, together!